Can the Eagles, or Can the Tigers. Either would be helpful.
If you want to see the firsthand effects of COVID-19 on the economy in Christian County, look no further than the parking lot of Least Of These food pantry in Ozark. On nights where food is carted from the warehouse to the parking lot for distribution to the waiting vehicles of the food pantry’s clients, there are plenty of stories about people humbled to seek food assistance for the first time in their lives.
“We have seen 213 new families since March. Some of them are in a season of life that they’re not normally in,” Least Of These Development and Marketing Coordinator Michelle Teter said. “Recently, I had a conversation with a lady in her car, and she was crying, ‘Normally, I wouldn’t be here in your parking lot picking up food, but my husband lost his job due to COVID.’”
September is Hunger Action Month. This year, it coincides with the lead up to Oct. 2, when the Nixa Eagles face the Ozark Tigers in high school football at Ozark’s Tiger Stadium. Student groups, most notably the cheerleading squads, take part in dueling “Can the Eagles” and “Can the Tigers” food drives each season leading up to the Christian County rivalry clash known as the Backyard Brawl.
“We try to raise awareness that there are hunger problems in Christian County,” Teter said.
Since the beginning of August, Least Of These, Inc., Christian County Food Pantry has seen an increase in families seeking food assistance.
“We have seen a 32-percent increase in the number of new families seeking assistance since the Coronavirus started,” said Kristy Carter, Executive Director. “But since the beginning of August, that number is even higher.”
Ten new families contacted the food pantry for assistance in a single day in August.
Battle of the chambers
Chambers of commerce in Ozark and Nixa are again taking part in the Backyard Brawl rivalry. Collection points for canned food items have been set up in Ozark and in Nixa.
Ozark Chamber of Commerce Director Anna Evans encouraged chamber members to join the effort at a meeting Aug. 27.
“The need for us to show up in a more robust and unprecedented way is even more important this year,” Evans said.
Least Of These has already missed out on three regularly-occurring food drives in 2020, raising the stakes for the Backyard Brawl event.
“It is our largest food drive that we have every year,” Carter said.
Nixa Chamber of Commerce President Chris Russell used a Facebook video to issue a challenge to Ozark.
“We are going to help support the cheerleaders, but more importantly, help support Christian County,” Russell said. “We’re challenging the Ozark Chamber of Commerce and helping Least Of These at the same time.”
In Ozark, canned food donation barrels are located at the Ozark Chamber of Commerce, The OC, and three Ozark Bank locations. In Nixa, you’ll find blue donation barrels at Nixa Dry Cleaners, Seven Hills Veterinary Clinic, Jenkins CPA and at Ozark Bank.
Supporters of both the Tigers and the Eagles can also make monetary donations to the rivalry food drive at http://www.leastofthesefoodpantry.org. The food drive runs through Sept. 30.
Guardsmen and volunteers
With an increase in demand, Least Of These also faces a decrease in assistance. At the end of July, 10 National Guard troops who had been helping at the food pantry with labor and distribution were sent home or sent elsewhere on other assignments.
“Right now, it is very difficult to function adequately without the help of the National Guard. They are our heroes in this fight against curbing hunger in our community,” Carter said. “With only four staff members, it will be nearly impossible for us to serve our community in the capacity that will be needed.”
Least Of These depends heavily on volunteers, but some of its most loyal and well-trained volunteers are ages 65 and older, making them statistically more susceptible to contracting the COVID-19 virus through community spread. Some Least Of These volunteers won’t be back at the food pantry until conditions improve.
In the first six months of 2020, Least Of These distributed 660,971 pounds of food. The pantry served 4,966 families in Christian County, or a total of more than 13,000 residents. Christian County’s estimated population as of July 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was more than 88,500.
Least Of These does not receive government funding. It relies on donations in order to operate If you would like to donate, visit http://www.leastofthesefoodpantry.org/donate. For every dollar donated, Least Of These, Inc., can purchase $10 worth of food.
Christian County residents who are in need of food assistance should complete a client application online at http://www.leastofthesefoodpantry.org. Once the application is completed, a volunteer will contact them to set up an appointment to pick up their food.